Political agitations that drag on and on fall into a set groove—usually, one tired rally after another, with a flagging media attendance. Not Telangana, where the fight for statehood refuses to be monochromatic, and is expressing itself in a riot of colours. The violence that raged across the 10 districts of Telangana in December has given way to a burst of innovation and colloquial creativity. From cooking on national highways to planting paddy on the roads, from washing clothes on the streets to weaving saris on a moving tractor, there is never a dull moment in T-land.
In Amanagallu in Mahbubnagar district, indoctrination is in full swing—village leaders have established a Telangana school, where students are given lessons on the movement’s history. One zilla parishad school in Adilabad district even hosted a daylong ‘election’, in which nearly a thousand people voted on the question of statehood for Telangana. No prizes for guessing the results.
Telangana ideologues like Professor K. Jayashankar calls this the genius of the common man at work. “Strikes, rallies and seminars are the usual ways to generate awareness in political agitations across India,” he says. “The citizens of Telangana are devising a new format for expressing their views peacefully. It heralds a new maturity in the movement.”
Women cook food on a Sircilla roadside
Describing how a TV crew from Delhi filmed, fascinated, as people in his constituency cooked and ate on the road, Sircilla MP K.T. Rama Rao (son of TRS chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao), explains: “These are not gimmicks. This is about finding novel ways to sustain a long-drawn battle so that the cause does not go unnoticed by decision-makers at the Centre.” Sometimes it takes a provocative form, with young people kicking around footballs painted with the faces of politicians perceived as anti-Telangana, like Jagan Mohan Reddy, Lagadapati Rajagopal and even chief minister K. Rosaiah.
Singer and poet Balakishan Rasamayi, the convenor of the Telangana Dhoom Dhaam Committee, one of the mini-cultural outfits that have sprung up now, says the football games are a message to politicians opposing the T-state: “We will not take things lying down. We will play football with you if you crush our hopes and desires for statehood.”
The most creative are the football games in which politicians who are anti-Telangana are painted on the footballs.
So it goes on, a playful mix of protest and creativity. At Mustabad, people make ‘Jai Telangana’ rubber seals and stamp them on currency notes. Barbers hand out free haircuts at Ilendu in Khammam district. Women roll beedis on a road in Dilavarpur, Adilabad district, obstructing traffic for two hours. Washerwomen stage Chakirevu (a clothes-washing fair) at Girnibavi village in Warangal while other protesters wash clothes with gusto right on the highway at Ramakrishnapuram in Adilabad. They call it a “cleansing ritual”. Students sweep roads and sell vegetables at Ibrahimpatnam, Rangareddy district. Their counterparts in Mahbubnagar walk on their knees.
“None of these ideas are coming from political parties,” stresses Rama Rao. Another T-protagonist, Prof Kodanda Ram, feels the movement has taken on a more spontaneous form this time, compared to 1969, when it was more “idealistic”. (Of course, there were also no TV cameras then.)
Telangana festival Bathukamma
Congressmen favouring a united Andhra beg to differ. “The students are being brainwashed,” says MP Sabbam Hari dismissively. “The poor, especially coolies and daily-wage labourers, are impacted the most because thanks to these agitations, there is no work for them.” But the agitators are unabashed by such criticism. “We will bring the lawmakers to their knees,” says a confident Bullikonda Veerendra, a student leader from Warangal. The fun has just begun at this T-party. The question is, with a decision on statehood nowhere in sight, how long can it be sustained?